Then-European Commission President Manuel Barroso bit off more than he could chew when he declared in January 2013 that he wanted to have the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and EU wrapped up within two years. That was unrealistic, and gave opponents the opportunity to argue that negotiating big business behind closed doors is deciding “about us without us.”*
One must admit that civic organizations in Europe have subsequently extracted important corrections, and the very fact that the commission and politicians in EU countries have to defend the pact is for the good. It gives politicians the opportunity to dispel certain senseless reservations — “It will destroy farmer’s markets in Europe” — and at the same time it gives politicians the opportunity to explain why the EU needs an agreement with the United States.
Barack Obama must do the same in America. These days he’s fighting in Congress to acquire a mandate allowing his administration to negotiate any treaties whatsoever. In Washington right now, this concerns first and foremost the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the U.S. wishes to conclude with 11 other countries, but even with respect to negotiating with the EU, the mandate is essential. Obama, who is facing off against his own Democrats, is running up against distrust similar to the one we see among European opponents of TTIP. Free-market agreements are, they say, harmful in the end; they harm employees to the advantage of corporations, they lower labor and other standards and they destroy the specifics of national identity in favor of a global monoculture.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find good responses to such common contentions. The liberal Fareed Zakaria and the conservative Charles Krauthammer, two famous American commentators who are otherwise as different as night and day on international policy, offer at least one identical, and totally key, argument. The rise of China is changing the world; right now future global rules are being decided — in business, cybersecurity, the protection of intellectual property and in a range of other areas. It will be the United States, the EU, Japan and Australia which project their values and standards onto these rules. Or China will assert its interests and values instead.
“Let’s hope we don’t look back 20 years from now, under new rules written by China, and wish we had been more assertive,” writes Zakaria. And Krauthammer asks quite straightforwardly: “Who is going to write the rules for the global economy — America or China?” Which implies the question for Europeans: Does the EU want to collaborate with the U.S. on the new rules, or will it let Beijing impose them? The answer shouldn’t be so hard.
*Translator’s note: This is a common Czech expression about greater powers deciding the fate of smaller ones, the original instance having been the Munich Pact of 1938.